The biggest news in gourmet groceries is a 50,000-square-foot, Slow Food–inspired Italian-food temple, where you can nibble and sip your way through the vegetable department, the cheese station, the panini bar, the pasta and pizza places, the fish counter, the raw-beef “sushi” bar, the gelato stand, or the rooftop brewery. We’ll let Mario Batali—partner in the venture with Lidia and Joe Bastianich, and company founder Oscar Farinetti—whet your appetite.
Is Eataly more giant grocery store, more food hall, or a seamless blend of both?
We’re not a food hall. We’re a grocery store with tasting rooms and restaurants. We don’t want you to just come and eat and walk away. We want you to come and taste some things and then take them home and cook them.
Kind of like an advanced form of plying unsuspecting customers with free samples?
Exactly, except we’re charging them for it.
How much Italian product, how much American?
The predominance of the Italian products will probably be 75 percent in dry goods and almost none in the fresh. The cheese and the meats will be all Italian, and then there’ll be my dad’s [salumi] and La Quercia [American prosciutto], and the dairy—yogurt, milk, sour cream, and all that—will be all domestic. Fish will be some Italian, but a lot of American. Dave Pasternack’s running the fish restaurant. He’s going to have a crudo bar, he’s going to have an oyster bar, it’s like a mini Esca. And the meat is going to be all American. We have our own American razza Piemontese growers and also American Angus.
What’s the meat restaurant, Manzo, like?
There’s going to be something akin to a sushi bar, which is a beef bar, that will have five or six different daily-changing preparations of raw Piedmontese beef: There’s a steak tartare, there’s a carpaccio, there’s something called carne sala which is the top round marinated in tea and honey for 26 days and then sliced kind of like a bresaola. You can have tasting portions with wine at the counter, or you can get that same tasting in the 60-seat restaurant. It’s the only space that takes reservations, that conceivably has antipasto, pasta, main course, dessert, and coffee.
And it’s true that artist Jennifer Rubell is running the vegetable department?
Yeah, she’s the vegetable butcher.
What does a vegetable butcher do?
Anything you want. If you’re not familiar with how to trim an artichoke, we’ll trim you an artichoke. If you don’t think you have time to peel your baby carrots, you can leave them with us and go shop in the other parts of the store, and we’ll peel them. We’ll do anything but cook them. On your way out, we’ll put the peels in a little separate bag—because they’re going to weigh them at the checkout counter—and then they go into a compost can up front.
Compare one of Eataly’s departments—let’s say cheese—to a small shop, say, Di Palo.
What makes a great cheese store great, and what makes Di Palo the best, is how many wheels of cheese you go through in a week or a day. You know that they just opened a wheel of Parm in the last 48 hours when you walk in. In my dreams, ours will be as good. There will be American cheeses, and there may even be some French cheeses, but most of them will be Italian, and most of them will be northern, and hopefully they’ll move.
What about wine?
Where we were out of the wine business when we sold Italian Wine Merchants, we’re back in the wine business. We’ll have a store with a separate entrance right on Fifth Avenue that will be the encyclopedia of great Italian wines. This may be a little bit more Piedmont-specific, like odd and older Barolos, with access to wines you wouldn’t be able to get at other shops.
What are you most excited about?
I think what’s going to blow people away the most is the pastry department. The pastry guy, Luca Montersino, does the most amazing things: All of these, what they call dolci al cucchiaio, spoon desserts, in small portions, like half portions, are in these odd little clear cones, and pyramids, and upside down. Beautiful, unbelievable stuff.
What about pizza? Otto style or Mozza style?
The pizza is not actually us, it’s these dudes from Naples called Rossopomodoro. They make everything in this weird little pizza kitchen. I have no idea how they’re going to do it. It’s not going to be like Otto, it’s going to be more like Kesté.
Is New York really lacking for great gourmet superstores?
I think we need a temple. I think we need a place where food is more sacred than commerce, a place to go and be provoked and think about great food and great stuff. But I don’t want it to feel like it’s all didactic and super-heady. We’re not selling a philosophy. We’re selling polenta.